Feather loss on tail

by Julie Barber
(Newton Ks, Harvey county)

Question
feather loss on tail: I have 22 hens, several different breeds about 1 yr old. Several, not specific to breed, have lost feathers at the base of tail area, and some on the breast.

Thought it was a pecking order issue, but continues to worsen. Chickens have a large coop and outside access. Wondering if something else could be causing the problem.

Answer
One of the first things I would suspect is over crowding. Too many chickens too close together makes for irritable chickens. Plucking or pecking is their way of communicating: “Get out of my space!”

In every flock there are dominant birds. When the dominant birds are irritable in a closed area, inside or outside or combined, they will do damage to other birds.

Feather pulling, pecking and plucking are the signs, but over long periods of time more aggressive behavior can be seen.

It’s important to spend some time watching your flock, as long as it takes to spot their behavior.

An average minimal coop for a flock that size would be 22’ by 22’, allowing 4 square feet inside per bird.

The yard would need to be at least 55’ by 55’, allowing 10 square feet per bird. This is the minimal amount of floor and ground area, which would total 14 square feet per bird for inside and outside area.



If you have that or more you can probably rule out over crowding. You said they have access to outside. I don’t know if that is free range area or an enclosed area.

If you have any roosters you would need to adjust the figures above to include the total number of chickens.

In average small pens there is little for chickens to do once they have killed the grass and dug up all the roots, bugs, seeds and worms.

Out of boredom and frustration they can pick on each other. It’s unusual for chickens to pull out their own feathers, but if you see them doing it, there’s the possibility of tiny mites that bite and suck blood.

This causes itching and some mites invade the feather follicles. Most feed stores carry mite remedies for chickens.

Some chicken medications call for not eating the eggs for a certain period of time, so check the instructions carefully.

Chickens molt most heavily in the fall, shedding worn out feathers and growing new ones to keep them warm and dry during the winter.

Extreme feather loss at other times is not normal. It can be a sign of internal parasites.

Some chickens pluck and eat feathers of other chickens and this may be a sign that you need to up the protein content of their feed.

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